How David Perrell’s Write of Passage Revolutionized the Way We Learn

Team Disco
10 min read

Writing is a critical skill, and it’s only going to become more important in the future. That’s why David Perell started Write of Passage.

At 19 years old, David Perell was living in New York City. He spent any time outside of his internship weaving amongst the skyscrapers, wondering when he was going to get in on the action he knew the city had to offer.

With that drive in mind, he started talking to people. He interviewed friends who loved to golf and folks at conferences he had met through the Internet: “And it just ended up becoming a magnificent way to learn. I looked at the richness and the texture and the fulfillment of the conversations that I was having over interviews. Contrast that to the delirious boredom that I felt in my classes and college, and I just said to hell with school to hell with traditional education,” Perell notes.

Now, seven years later, a 26-year old David hosts one of the most notable (and popular) live courses on the web, Write of Passage. It’s routinely sold out, but that hasn’t stopped eager prospective learners from lining up (virtually, of course) on David’s waitlist to hear how a non-traditional-writer-turned-live-course-entrepreneur manages to say the right things in the right way.

Writing is one of the most primitive skills we have. We’re taught in school how to string together lines and curves and dots to form letters that form words that form sentences. It’s rooted in our earliest education systems, but writing goes so far beyond that. It goes beyond books and articles and webpages. The need to express ideas, share them, and inevitably create them is how we pass one knowledge, wisdom, and expertise.

So how has David Perell, a self-proclaimed “non-traditional writer”, helped hundreds of other writers find success, fulfillment, and passion through the written word?

What has made David Perell’s sold-out course, Write of Passage, so transformative for learners and what can other Academy, Bootcamp, and Micro-Schools take from his experience?

You're not creating talent, you're building skill

A major distinction that David notes in the messaging for his cohort-based course is he’s not teaching you a newfound talent of writing. It’s a skill, and it’s important your learners know the expectation is for them to learn a new skill.

“Talent is something that you're born with,” David distincts. “A skill is something that can be taught. I was playing tennis this morning, working on my forehand, and that is at some level of talent and some level of skill. But I've been really into the skill side of tennis, and that means that I can actually get better at doing it.”

It’s important to be aware of the varying levels of talent your learners are coming to the table with. Some will be born naturals. Others, complete beginners. Creating a great product and curating a learning community around it involves being able to teach a skill that’s valuable to a wide range of talents.

“Writing and writing online — there are elements of talent within it, but I've dissected it into a skill. A lot of people think that writing is just pure art. It's something that can only be taught, and that's wrong. Human society advances. When we take something that we think is an art and we translate it into a skill or into a science.”

Price your cohort-based course based on the value learners will actually receive

Pricing looks very different for every course and every creator, but David knows the curriculum he’s put together is designed to create nothing but value. He also hand-selects applicants so there’s a very specific correlation between those willing to pay the price for his courses and those wanting to meet deliberate, tangible goals:

“What we do is we get two to 400 of the most ambitious writers in the world that we can find, and then we make the price very expensive so that every single person in the course knows for certain that every other person is serious. How many $20 eBooks have you bought and then followed through on?,” David asks.

Read how On Deck’s Eliot Gattegno finds ideal learners.

“Look, for me the high price point allows me to share all of these ideas online. I think that the vast majority of what I do is free. College is way too expensive. But things that cost money, you take seriously. College is really expensive, but most people don't feel the burden of that cost in the moment, which then has them not working as hard.”

If you know your course is worth more than the dollar amount on screen, charge it — and do so boldly. By David’s philosophy, bearing the weight of that cost upfront empowers learners to work harder because they know they have to live up to that dollar amount.

In fact, David is so confident in the value of his product that he offers an entire money-back guarantee if your writing skills aren’t transformed.

Understand the impact of peer learning and cultivate your community to thrive

Any course creator knows the impact of curating a learning community: strength in numbers, accountability, the social impact of kindred learners developing skills alongside one another — but David notes that peer learning is more than a system of accountability.

“We often think of genius as something that happens individually. Steve Jobs was a genius. Bill Gates was a genius. Elon Musk is a genius. We don't often think of genius as something that comes out of a place. I think it's really worth thinking about — when are those moments created and what do they have in common?”

David goes on to talk about the cultural implications of Enlightenment movements during the 17th and 18th centuries — the original think tanks — and how that inspired movements like Y Combinator and incubators where Stripe, Airbnb, and Dropbox all got their starts. Peer learning isn’t simply about putting people in a room together to toss ideas and create something of them. It’s so people can really thrive.

So what do these storied learning communities all have in common?

“The first is anti-scale. The second is where weird is cool,” David says. “People come out and say, ‘why doesn’t Harvard become bigger? Why doesn’t Princeton become bigger?’ That's what we try to do with Write of Passage. Rather than expanding the size of the cohort to get thousands and thousands of students, I could probably make more money doing that, but it ruins the scene."

There’s strength in numbers, but there is also strength in intimate communities that can foster genuine connection.Read how Dribbble creates intimacy between learners with pointed subgroups.

“That size where you can be in breakout rooms and you can look at the other people in the course and you can say ‘I know that person.’  That's what I'm going for, because writing isn't something that you do for five weeks, It's something that you do for a lifetime.”

Assume responsibility in helping move the live learning industry forward

As course creators, we’re at the mercy of the technology we have available to us. The COVID pandemic fostered virtual collaboration and increased the rate of technology adoption much faster than it would have otherwise.

“What we have right now is a world that is pulling with its demand for different video platforms. The market is beginning to respond. Zoom is made for a lot of different purposes. It is very clearly not made for education. It doesn't really embed curriculum and it doesn’t embed good one-on-one messaging. The chat is ephemeral. What if the chat could be consistent from session to session? What if the chat then had a place where you could manage different assignments and different writing. Maybe you could do live feedback. It's very clear that Zoom works for education, but it's not built for education.”

As live learning becomes more commonplace than even traditional in-person schooling, it’s clear that additional accommodations and technologies are needed to scale — and it’s on the creators of these live learning communities to not only test and implement new technologies as they’re released, but to call for them regularly.

“How do we recreate the classroom? How can we do things with the Internet that we would never be able to do in a classroom setting? The great example is breakout rooms. Breakout rooms are the best invention to live education in years because what they allow you to do is go from scale to one-on-one with the click of a button.”

With any great tech advancement, there was a community rallying around its creation. Live learning communities and their founders and operators are the best allies in creating world-class tools and software to help academies, bootcamps, and micro-schools offering cohort-based courses thrive in the learning revolution.

May 31, 2022